By Ben Meyerson
Oak Park resident Jim Andrews opened a hot dog stand on the West Side of Chicago in 2009 to give ex-offenders a place to work.
But now, after almost three years of ups and downs, Andrews had to call it quits. His restaurant, Felony Franks, ceased operation a week ago Monday.
"I feel bad," Andrews said, "but I had a talk with the guys."
Andrews will have to let all four of his employees go, all of them ex-offenders who were given a chance through Felony Franks.
"Jim Andrews is a great man and this neighborhood needs more businessmen like him," Calvin Thomas, a manager at Felony Franks, said.
The stand faced many obstacles, everything from a two-year battle with the alderman over a permit for a sign to financial troubles.
"I have to do what's best now," Andrews said
Although the doors have closed, Andrews is looking for a new location in Chicago or in the suburbs, in particular Willow Springs or Elmhurst, to re-open his business.
Some of the employees blame Adams liquors, a few doors down from the stand for Felony Franks' financial difficulties because crowds from the liquor store spilled over to the front of the restaurant.
"I think it's terrible," Mirian Hernandez, a worker at Felony Franks said. "It was a good idea until that liquor store moved in."
The hardest part for Andrews is letting his employees go.
"They almost brought me to tears," Andrews said. "They said, 'We are here to the end with you, Jimmy, and we appreciate what you did for us.'"
Thomas said he will focus on his Web development business, and Hernandez will work for a friend of Andrews in another restaurant. Andrews says he will help the other employees if they need it. "They could collect unemployment until the transition is over," he said.
Community leader Earnest Gates, head of the Near West Side Chamber of Commerce, said Felony Franks' glorification of the criminal lifestyle was demeaning and the food just wasn't good enough.
"He didn't have the product or the service to cut the mustard," Gates said. "They're closed; I'm pleased. You can't tell someone how to theme their business, but we felt it was basically a slap at the community, basically considering the recidivism rate over here and in West Garfield."
But if Andrews has his way, Felony Franks won't be gone for long. He is planning ways to bring back his business, but for now he said he can no longer fight.
"I have to stop bleeding," Andrews said. "I'm bleeding too hard now."